Charged ... Father Lewis Fenton. Photo: Supplied
A PRIEST from the Hunter Valley who retired more than 15 years ago has become the second Catholic priest in Australia charged with concealing child sex crimes.
Father Lewis Fenton, 81, of Eleebana, was charged on Friday morning in relation to offences committed by a Hunter man against children in the mid-1980s.
Father Fenton was charged four months after the retired Hunter priest Tom Brennan made international news as the first Australian Catholic priest to face charges of concealing another priest's sex crimes against children in the 1970s.
Father Brennan died of cancer six weeks later, and before the matter was heard in court.
Strike Force Georgiana detectives charged Father Fenton with misprision of a felony - failing to disclose a serious crime - and one count of accessory before the fact after investigating allegations about two Hunter men convicted of child sex crimes in the 1980s.
One of the men worked in publishing and the other was the former Hunter Catholic primary school teacher Anthony Bambach, who taught at a Nelson Bay school in the 1980s when Father Fenton was parish priest.
Bambach was placed on a five-year good behaviour bond in 1989 after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a Nelson Bay school boy, 10. Bambach died in 2006.
Father Fenton's solicitor said the priest had nothing to say after he was bailed to appear at Newcastle Local Court later this month. ''He won't be making any comment,'' he said.
Catholic Church records list Father Fenton at Cardiff parish in 1979, as parish priest at Nelson Bay in 1988, parish priest at Gateshead in 1994, and retired to a Catholic aged care facility at Eleebana in 1997.
A woman who made a statement to police alleging she spoke to Father Fenton in the mid-1980s about concerns her son was being sexually assaulted was in tears after she was advised the priest had been charged. ''This never goes away,'' she said. ''When children are sexually assaulted it changes their lives forever.''
Dr Bernard Barrett, of the victims support group Broken Rites, said Friday's charges against Father Fenton were a milestone because of the rarity of conceal charges against clergy around the world.